Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 801–814 | Cite as

Cognitive and institutional influences on farmers’ adaptive capacity: insights into barriers and opportunities for transformative change in central Arizona

  • Hallie Eakin
  • Abigail York
  • Rimjhim Aggarwal
  • Summer Waters
  • Jessica Welch
  • Cathy Rubiños
  • Skaidra Smith-Heisters
  • Chrissie Bausch
  • John M. Anderies
Original Article


The prospect of unprecedented environmental change, combined with increasing demand on limited resources, demands adaptive responses at multiple levels. In this article, we analyze different attributes of farm-level capacity in central Arizona, USA, in relation to farmers’ responses to recent dynamism in commodity and land markets, and the institutional and social contexts of farmers’ water and production portfolios. Irrigated agriculture is at the heart of the history and identity of the American Southwest, although the future of agriculture is now threatened by the prospect of “mega-droughts,” urbanization and associated inter-sector and inter-state competition over water in an era of climatic change. We use farm-level survey data, supplemented by in-depth interviews, to explore the cross-level dimensions of capacity in the agriculture–urban nexus of central Arizona. The surveyed farmers demonstrate an interest in learning, capacity for adaptive management and risk-taking attitudes consistent with emerging theory of capacity for land use and livelihood transformation. However, many respondents perceive their self-efficacy in the face of future climatic and hydrological change as uncertain. Our study suggests that the components of transformational capacity will necessarily need to go beyond the objective resources and cognitive capacities of individuals to incorporate “linking” capacities: the political and social attributes necessary for collective strategy formation to shape choice and opportunity in the future.


Adaptive capacity Linking capacities Agriculture Peri-urban Transformation Water management 



The research presented here was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sectoral Applications Research Program, CSI Award #NA110AR4310123, H. Eakin, PI, with additional support through the National Science Foundation under Grant SES-0951366, Decision Center for a Desert City II: Urban Climate Adaptation. All findings presented are the responsibility of the authors, not the funding agencies. We greatly appreciate the support and participation of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Ayman Mostafa of the University of Arizona Maricopa County Extension Service in the design and implementation of this project, and Dr. Nadine Marshall, CSIRO, for generously sharing her research instruments with our team. We also appreciate the time and collaboration of the growers, water managers and other experts who have contributed to this project. Sally Wittlinger prepared the map for this manuscript. The authors appreciate the comments of two anonymous reviewers whose insights improved the manuscript considerably.


  1. Abbott DR (2003) Centuries of decline during the Hohokam classic period at Pueblo Grande. University of Arizona Press, TucsonGoogle Scholar
  2. Adger WN (2003) Social capital, collective action, and adaptation to climate change. Econ Geogr 79(4):387–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adger WN, Dessai S, Goulden M, Hulme M, Lorenzoni I, Nelson DR, Naess LO, Wolf J, Wreford A (2009) Are there social limits to adaptation to climate change? Clim Change 93:335–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderies JM, Janssen MA, Ostrom E (2004) A framework to analyze the robustness of social-ecological systems from an institutional perspective. Ecol Soc 9(1), art. 18Google Scholar
  5. Anderies JM, Walker BH, Kinzig AP (2006) Fifteen weddings and a funeral: Case studies and resilience-based management. Ecol Soc 11(1):21.
  6. Arizona Department of Water Resources (2010a) Arizona water atlas, volume 8: active management area planning area. State of Arizona, PhoenixGoogle Scholar
  7. Arizona Department of Water Resources (2010b) Pinal AMA Summary Budget. State of Arizona, PhoenixGoogle Scholar
  8. Arizona Department of Water Resources (2011) Phoenix AMA Summary Budget. State of Arizona, PhoenixGoogle Scholar
  9. Avelino F, Rotmans I (2009) Power in transition: an interdisciplinary framework to study power in relation to structural change. Eur J Soc Theory 12(4):543–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barnett A, Eakin H (2015) We and us, not I and me: Justice, social capital, and household vulnerability in a Nova Scotia fishery. Appl Geogr 59:107–116. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2014.11.005 Google Scholar
  11. Bausch J, Eakin H, Smith-Heisters S, Rubinos C, York A, White D, Aggarwal R (2015) Development pathways at the agriculture-urban interface: the case of Central Arizona. Agric Hum Values. doi: 10.1007/s10460-015-9589-8 Google Scholar
  12. Brown K, Westaway E (2011) Agency, capacity, and resilience to environmental change: Lessons from human development, well-being and disasters. Ann Rev Environ Resour 36:14.11–14.22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brugger J, Crimmins M (2013) The art of adaptation: living with climate change in the rural American Southwest. Glob Environ Change Hum Policy Dimens 23:1830–1840CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burch S, Robinson J (2007) A framework for explaining the links between capacity and action in response to global climate change. Clim Policy 7(4):304–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Burton I, White G, Kates R (1978) Environment as hazard. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Cash D, Clark W, Alcock F, Dickson N, Eckley N, Jager J (2002). Salience, credibility, legitimacy and boundaries: Linking research, assessment, and decision-making. John F. Kennedy School of Government Faculty Research Working Paper Series (RWP02/046). CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Colby BG, Frisvold GB (eds) (2011) Adaptation and resilience: the economics of climate, water, and energy challenges in the American Southwest. Earthscan, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  18. Coles AR, Scott CA (2009) Vulnerability and adaptation to climate change and variability in semi-arid rural southeastern Arizona, USA. Nat Resour Forum 33:297–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eakin H, Conley J (2002) Climate variability and the vulnerability of ranching in southeastern Arizona: a pilot study. Clim Res 21:271–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eakin H, Lemos MC (2010) Institutions and change: the challenge of building adaptive capacity in Latin America. Glob Environ Change Hum Policy Dimens 20(1):1–3. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.08.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Eakin H, Luers A (2006) Assessing the vulnerability of social-environmental systems. Annu Rev Environ Resour 31:365–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Eakin H, Tucker C, Castellanos E (2006) Responding to the coffee crisis: a pilot study of farmers’ adaptations in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Geogr J 172:156–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eakin H, Lerner A, Murtinho F (2010) Adaptive capacity in evolving peri-urban spaces: responses to flood risk in the Upper Lerma River Valley, Mexico. Glob Environ Change 20:14–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Eakin H, Lemos MC, Nelson DR (2014) Differentiating capacities as a means to sustainable climate change adaptation. Glob Environ Change 27:1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frank E, Eakin H, Carr D (2011) Social identity, perception and motivation in adaptation to climate risk in the coffee sector of chiapas, Mexico. Glob Environ Change 21:66–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gober P, Kirkwood CW, Balling RC, Ellis AW, Deitrick S (2010) Water planning under climatic uncertainty in Phoenix: Why we need a new paradigm. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 100:356–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Goetz S (2002) Land use problems and conflicts in the U.S.: Northeast Regional Center for Rural DevelopmentGoogle Scholar
  28. Grothmann T, Patt A (2005) Adaptive capacity and human cognition: the process of individual adaptation to climate change. Glob Environ Change 15:199–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Howden M, Soussana JF, Tubiello F, Chhetri N, Dunlop M, Meinke H (2007) Adapting agriculture to climate change. PNAS 104:19691–19696CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Institute Morrison (2011) Watering the sun corridor: managing choices in Arizona’s megapolitan area. Morrison Institute for Public Policy Arizona State University, PhoenixGoogle Scholar
  31. Institute of the Environment (2013) Assessment of climate change in the Southwest United States: a report prepared for the national climate assessment. In: Garfin G, Jardine A, Merideth R, Black M, LeRoy S (eds) National climate assessment regional technical input report series. Institute of the Environment, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  32. Kane K, York A, Tuccillo J, Gentile L, Ouyang Y (2014) Residental development during the great recession: a shifting focus in Phoenix, Arizona. Urban Geogr 35(4):486–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kasperson RE, Renn O, Slovic P, Brown HS, Emel J, Goble R, Ratick S (1988) The social amplification of risk—a conceptual-framework. Risk Anal 8(2):177–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kates RW, Travis WR, Wilbanks TJ (2012) Transformational adaptation when incremental adaptations to climate change are insufficient. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109:7156–7161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Maguire RP (2007) Patching the holes in the bucket: safe yield and the future of water management in Arizona. Arizona Legal Rev 49:361Google Scholar
  36. Marshall NA (2011) Assessing resource dependency on the rangelands as a measure of climate sensitivity. Soc Nat Resour 24:1105–1115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Marshall NA, Marshall PA (2007) Conceptualizing and operationalizing social resilience within commercial fisheries in Northern Australia. Ecol Soc 12, art.1Google Scholar
  38. Marshall NA, Park SE, Adger WN, Brown K, Howden SM (2012) Transformational capacity and the influence of place and identity. Environ Res Lett 7:034022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McDaniels T, Axelrod LJ, Slovic P (1996) Perceived ecological risks of global change—a psychometric comparison of causes and consequences. Glob Environ Change Hum Policy Dimens 6(2):159–171. doi: 10.1016/0959-3780(96)00006-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Murtinho F, Eakin H, Lopez-Carr D, Hayes TM (2013) Does external funding help adaptation? Evidence from community-based water management in the colombian Andes. Environ Manage 52(5):1103–1114. doi: 10.1007/s00267-013-0156-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. National Agricultural Statistics Service (2007) Census Volume 1. Chapter 2: County Level Data. Table 10. Irrigation 2007 and 2002. United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  42. Olsson P, Folke C, Hahn T (2004) Social-ecological transformation for ecosystem management: the development of adaptive co-management of a wetland landscape in southern Sweden. Ecol Soc 9(4):2.
  43. Ostrom E (1990) Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ostrom E (2011) Background on the institutional analysis development framework. Policy Stud J 39(1):190–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Overpeck J, Udall B (2010) Dry times ahead. Science 328:1642–1643CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Park SE, Marshall NA, Jakku E, Dowd AM, Howden SM, Mendham E, Fleming A (2012) Informing adaptation responses to climate change through theories of transformation. Glob Environ Change 22:115–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pelling M, High C (2005) Understanding adaptation: What can social capital offer assessments of adaptive capacity? Glob Environ Change Part A 15(4):308–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Scott J (1998) Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  49. Seager R (2007) The turn of the century North American drought: Global context, dynamics, and past analogs. J Clim 20:5527–5552Google Scholar
  50. Sheridan T (1995) Arizona: a History. University of Arizona Press, TucsonGoogle Scholar
  51. Stafford Smith M, Horrocks L, Harvey A, Hamilton C (2010) Rethinking adaptaton for a 4 world. Philos Trans R Soc Lond Ser A 369:196–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tschakert P, Dietrich KA (2010) Anticipatory learning for climate change adaptation and resilience. Ecol Soc 15(2). Art: 11Google Scholar
  53. U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation (2012) Reclamation: managing water in the West. Colorado river basin water supply and demand study. Executive summary. US Department of the Interior, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  54. Vano JA, Udall B, Cayan DR, Overpeck JT, Brekke LD, Das T, Hartmann HC, Hidalgo HG, Hoerling M, McCabe GJ (2013) Understanding uncertainties in future Colorado River streamflow. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 95(1):59–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vasquez-Leon M, West CT, Finan TJ (2003) A comparative assessment of climate vulnerability: agriculture and ranching on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Glob Environ Change 13:159–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Walker B, Holling CS, Carpenter SR, Kinzig A (2004) Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecol Soc 9: 5.
  57. Westley F, Olsson P, Folke C, Homer-Dixon T, Vredenburg H, Loorbach D, Thompson J, Nilsson M, Lambin E, Sendzimir J, Banerjee B, Galaz V, van der Leeuw S (2011) Tipping toward sustainability: emerging pathways of transformation. Ambio 40:762–780CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. White G (1973) Natural hazards research. In: Chorley RJ (ed) Directions in geography. Methuen, London, pp 193–216Google Scholar
  59. Wood G (2003) Staying secure, staying poor: the “Faustian Bargain”. World Dev 31(3):455–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hallie Eakin
    • 1
  • Abigail York
    • 2
  • Rimjhim Aggarwal
    • 1
  • Summer Waters
    • 3
  • Jessica Welch
    • 1
  • Cathy Rubiños
    • 1
  • Skaidra Smith-Heisters
    • 2
  • Chrissie Bausch
    • 1
  • John M. Anderies
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Sonoran InstitutePhoenixUSA

Personalised recommendations